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Students of color to UNLV: "Do better"

The combustible issue of race on college campuses arrived in Las Vegas on a sunny November afternoon. Yesterday, November 18, UNLV administrators, staff, faculty and students spoke their minds at a protest and a town hall discussion. 

The demonstration was organized by the Black Student Organization and supported by, among other, the Native American Student Association. It echoed similar campus rallies elsewhere in the nation, from Yale to the University of Missouri.

Those attending the town-hall style meeting at the Tam alumni center included UNLV President Len Jessup, Acting Provost and Executive Vice-President Nancy Rapoport, faculty and about 150 students. Students from across the spectrum of ethnicities spoke on the need for more resources and sensitivity to racial issues. Several students, people of color, acknowledged that faculty and staff try to be sensitive toward issues of race and class, but they had a common message: “Do better.” That means more resources for diversity classes and academic programs, a more diverse faculty and staff, and more than lip service to the needs of students of color, they said.

Fawn Douglas, a member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, noted that even as the university is working to do better on race and ethnicity, UNLV’s Native American Outreach program is scheduled for elimination next spring. She told the town hall that for her and other members of the Native American Student Association, the outreach was a lifeline.

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Douglas is scheduled to graduate this year with an art studies degree, but it’s the young people coming after her that she says she is concerned about. “Keep Native American Outreach,” she said.

Douglas said outside the meeting that the issues galvanizing student protests across the country reflected the same sorts of concerns shared by students of color at UNLV. “I see it, we feel it, and we want to let them know that they are not alone,” Douglas said. Several students carried signs into the town hall from the demonstration outside that said “Solidarity with Mizzou,” the University of Missouri’s nickname, where recent protests helped force the resignation of the school’s president and chancellor.

Diversity is not the only issue. Douglas and other speakers noted that UNLV’s mascot still seems to be a reference to a mustachioed Confederate general (although official university histories insist that the Rebel is a Western pioneer, not a Confederate “Reb”). That Rebel mascot is a “symbol of oppression,” Douglas said.

Imani Patterson, president of the Black Student Organization (pictured above), also spoke against “Hey Reb.”

“Why do we have to even have a mascot?” she asked.

According to university staff, the issue of the mascot, and potential changes, is under review. Jessup, for his part, promised that the administration would continue actively listening to those with concerns about diversity throughout the university.

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